SNL Transcripts: Buck Henry: 01/17/76: Operation Stumblebum


 Saturday Night Live Transcripts

  Season 1: Episode 10

75j: Buck Henry / Bill Withers, Toni Basil, The Blues Brothers

Operation Stumblebum

President Gerald Ford….Chevy Chase
Ron Nessen…Buck Henry
Secret Service Agent #1…Garrett Morris
Secret Service Agent #2…John Belushi
Voice of Reporter…Lorne Michaels

[SUPER: “AN OVAL OFFICE”] [Open on President Ford at his desk reading a document, with Press Secretary Ron Nessen seated in a chair to Ford’s right. Ford’s (stuffed) dog Liberty is on the floor at his left. Ford takes a pen from the pen holder in front of him and tries to sign the document.]

Ron Nessen: Mr. President, you’re signing your hand.

[Ford calmly places the pen back in its holder and looks over at Nessen]

Gerald Ford: Come on in and sit down, Ron.

[Nessen gets up from his chair, walks out the door, shuts it, reopens it, walks back in and sits in the same chair]

Gerald Ford: Now what’s this about a press conference, Ron?

Ron Nessen: You called it, Mr. President.

Gerald Ford: Called it what?

Ron Nessen: No, you called the press conference, Sir.

Gerald Ford: I see. [Looks over at Liberty] Heel, Liberty. [Looking back at Nessen] Sit down and make yourself comfortable, Ron.

Ron Nessen: I am sitting, Mr. President.

Gerald Ford: Ah! Then you must be comfortable.

Ron Nessen: Yes, Sir. Thank you.

Gerald Ford: I’m pretty comfortable myself.

Ron Nessen: That’s good.

Gerald Ford: [Looks around the Oval Office] I just don’t see what’s so awful about this room, personally.

Ron Nessen: No, Sir, Oval. It’s the Oval Office, sir.

Gerald Ford: Ah!

Ron Nessen: Not awful, Oval, round.

Gerald Ford: [Starts to get up] Ron?

Ron Nessen: Right here, Sir.

Gerald Ford: [Sits back down] Ron, you’ve got to be here when I call you. [To Liberty] Roll over, Liberty. Good boy. [To Nessen] Now, Ron, tell me about these rumors that I’m gonna fire you. What is that all about?

Ron Nessen: Well, I have heard those rumors, Sir.

Gerald Ford: Are they true?

Ron Nessen: I don’t know, Sir. That will be your decision.

Gerald Ford: Well, I guess we’ll find out sooner or later then, won’t we?

Ron Nessen: Uh perhaps, Mr. President, I’d better brief you now on the press conference.

Gerald Ford: Oh, don’t be silly, Ron. You take your time.

Ron Nessen: Yes, thank you, Sir. Now, I don’t think this afternoon’s questions will be particularly difficult.

Gerald Ford: Any math, you think, Ron?

Ron Nessen: I don’t think so, Sir, no. They’ll probably want to ask you about the New Hampshire primary and reaction to the recent polls showing Reagan ahead.

Gerald Ford: Ah-ha. What would you suggest I say there?

Ron Nessen: Well, Sir, considering our feelings that Gallup and Harris don’t accurately reflect the truth, you might make a little joke about the polls.

Gerald Ford: Well now, Ron, I just don’t think we have to get ethnic here.

Ron Nessen: No, Sir, no. Skip that. As your press secretary, I have to be candid with you: You’re being misunderstood a great deal lately. I’ve, uh, I’ve decided to take action against some of the absurd notions in the press that you’ve been behaving in a physically awkward and clumsy manner. And in order to quash rumors that your physical actions are any different from any normal average person, I’ve devised a plan which I and couple of the Secret Service men will put into action. Call it, ah, Operation Stumblebum.

Gerald Ford: Now, let me get this straight, Ron. These men are in the service and they’re keeping it a secret from me?

Ron Nessen: [Stares at Ford for a moment] No, Sir. I’m taking about the fellows in the dark glasses and the suits that are always running beside your car.

Gerald Ford: Well, we’re going to have to put a stop to that, Ron.

Ron Nessen: Yes, Sir. Now, what we plan to do is this: Should you make any physical movements that can be construed as out of the ordinary, [Ford takes a pipe from his coat pocket and puts it in his mouth] we will take specific action to see to it that others will view them as normal everyday behavior. [Nessen takes a pipe from his own pocket, puts it in his mouth and imitates Ford as he mistakenly lights the bottom of the pipe]

Gerald Ford: Mm-hmm.

Ron Nessen: This is a perfect example, Sir.

Gerald Ford: Ah. You know, I can never get these things lit. [He almost puts the lit lighter back in his coat pocket, then starts to stand up] RON?!

Ron Nessen: Right here, Sir. Now, Mr. President, I want to prepare you for the conference so you can avoid any possible little accidents. [He imitates Ford dropping his pipe as he tries to put it back in his coat pocket] First of all, you’ll walk through the door of the Oval Office, making sure to open it first. You’ll go down the hallway to the press conference room. Now, the hallway will have a wall on either side, right and left. But by walking down the middle of the hall, you’ll be able to avoid hitting either side. There’s a carpet in the hallway, but it’s only a little bitty one, it’s about [holds up fingers at eye level] this far off the ground.

Gerald Ford: [Thinking Nessen means the carpet is about five feet off the ground, he stands up and mimics climbing over the carpet] Well, then, should I just attempt to scale it with a jump or…

Ron Nessen: No, Sir, I mean it’ll be at foot level. But I don’t want you to have any trouble with it. We’ve taken the lamps and the portraits out of the corridor. Uh, you may see a shadow or two of something on the floor, but don’t let ’em throw you. And there will be three steps just before the door to the conference room. Try to take them one at a time.

Gerald Ford: Well now, Ron, will these steps be going up or down?

Ron Nessen: Well, Sir, they’ll be going down on your way in and up on your way back. That will mean you will be either using your left foot twice and your right foot once going down, or your right foot once and your left foot twice (sic), depending on which foot you plan to start with.

Gerald Ford: And that’ll be totally my choice, Ron?

Ron Nessen: Yes, Sir, totally your own. Then you will simply move through the curtains of the conference room up to the podium, making sure to walk through the area where the curtains are separated from each other. Before I forget, one more thing: The press conference will be over when the senior member of the press says “Thank you, Mr. President.”

Gerald Ford: “Thank you, Mr. President.”

Ron Nessen: Yes.

Gerald Ford: [To Liberty] Gimme the ball, Liberty! [To Nessen] Come on in and sit down, Ron.

Ron Nessen: Ah, Sir, I’d better be getting to the press room now. I’ll see you there in a few moments. [He stands and exits]

Gerald Ford: [To Liberty] Bad dog! Lie down, Liberty. [Ford releases Liberty’s leash, causing the stuffed dog to fall over. Ford continues to fumble around as if looking for something] [Dissolve to press room. Nessen is at a microphone-covered podium with the “Unofficial Seal of the United States of America” on the front]

Ron Nessen: All right, gentlemen, will you quiet down, please? May I have your attention, please? The president will be out in a moment. Before he arrives at the press conference, I have one or two things I’d like to say. First: I am angry. I’m angry because I consider it unconscionable that our president is incessantly maligned by several of you out there as being some sort of bungler. He is by far the most visible, accessible, open president we’ve ever had. Everyone, you and I alike, stumbles or trips once in a while. Just for the record, I’ve brought some photographs of well-known people that have not been shown in the press to show you that our president is not the only man who has this quality. [Uncovers doctored pictures mounted on an easel behind him, the first being Henry Kissinger bumping his head on an overhead school locker] The well-known Henry Kissinger locker incident, [Shows picture of Democratic Sentor Edmund Muskie slipping on a snow-covered path] a picture of Mr. Muskie that I don’t belive was covered in the press, [Shows picture of George McGovern falling on a snow-covered stoop] a touch of clumsiness on Mr. McGovern’s part, [Shows picture of Ronald Reagan sitting on a sidewalk] and of course, the Ronald Reagan sitting-in-the-street incident. Now, this all goes to show, that he’s not the only one to have these peculiar little things happen to him. Contrary to what you have been saying, our president is indeed graceful. He is, by far, the most athletic president within memory.

[Ford is suddenly heard crashing through the hallway as Nessen looks worried. Ford enters with two Secret Service men. Ford’s tie is crooked, and his jacket’s left sleeve is torn at the shoulder. Nessen tears the left sleeve of his own jacket, loosens his tie and clears his throat, signaling the Secret Service men to do the same.]

Gerald Ford: [Hands clipboard to Nessen] Uh, Ron, I believe you left this in my office.

Ron Nessen: Ah, thank you, Mr. President.

[Mistaking that for his cue to leave, Ford starts to exit. Nessen stops him and guides him back to the podium]

Ron Nessen: No, Sir, no. It’s when the senior member of the press corps says “Thank you, Mr. President.”

Gerald Ford: Ah! I’m sorry. [Begins to open folder] Shall we begin, gentlemen?

[Papers spill out of the folder onto the floor. Nessen and the Secret Service men cover for Ford by tossing more papers onto the floor]

Gerald Ford: No problem!

Ron Nessen: [as Ford scoops up the dropped papers] That’s all right, they’re easy to pick up. Thank you, Sir. That’s fine.

Voice of Reporter: Mr. President, Peter Aaron, Washington Gazette.

Gerald Ford: Yes, Mr. Aaron [Leans over to hear the reporter]

Voice of Reporter: Mr. President, what is your reaction to the recent allegations of CIA activities in Italy?

[Ford suddenly gets his sleeve caught on one of the microphones. The Secret Service men walk up and put their own hands in the microphones]

Gerald Ford: I got it. No problem here. This is–

Ron Nessen: It’s easy to get your hand caught in these.

Gerald Ford: Yes. [All free their hands from the microphones] All right. I’m sorry.

Ron Nessen: I think what the president is trying to say is…

[Ford suddenly leans forward and bangs his head on the podium]

Gerald Ford: Oop! No problem, no problem! [The Secret Service men bang their own heads against the podium while Nessen hits his head with his clipboard] Uh, I’d be hap…

[Ford slips and falls down, and the others follow suit]

Gerald Ford: [Hops up and holds arms out] Everything’s fine! Liberty! Liberty! Here, Liberty!

[The others join Ford as he walks around the stage calling for Liberty. “Hail To The Chief” plays as scene fades]

Submitted by: John Ravetti

SNL Transcripts

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Author: Don Roy King

Don Roy King has directed fourteen seasons of Saturday Night Live. That work has earned him ten Emmys and fourteen nominations. Additionally, he has been nominated for fifteen DGA Awards and won in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

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